Mental illness diagnosis, treatment, and classification have evolved considerably since the time of the ancient Greeks, when any kind of unusual mood or behavioral condition was thought to be due to an imbalance in the blood’s humors. Prior to 1980, when the term bipolar disorder became official, most professionals described the symptoms attributed to bipolar disorder using the more vivid but less specific term: Manic depression.
The latest fictional poster child for bipolar disorder is the brilliant but emotionally unstable character Carrie Mathison on the Showtime series Homeland played by the Emmy-winning actress Claire Danes. Her behavior highlights the two major poles that characterize the condition. One extreme includes extended, high-energy, frantic, sleepless, and sometimes hallucinogenic manic episodes while the other extreme involves extended, extremely low-energy, depressive and sometimes suicidal episodes.
Since about 4% of the American population has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s possible that the last house party you attended included at least one officially-diagnosed guest. As in any complex mental disorder, there are variations in level and frequency of manifestation.
Bipolar disorder is broken down into these five sub-types, depending on symptoms and severity:
- Bipolar I, where suffers experience extreme manic and sometimes mixed manic-depressive episodes.
- Bipolar II, where suffers have deep depressive episodes and manic ones of a lesser extreme.
- Cyclothymia, where suffers experience swings over years but of a milder extreme.
- Rapid Cycling, where suffers experience multiple cycles within a year’s time.
- Not Otherwise Specified (NOS), where suffers’ symptoms don’t follow any of the above patterns.
Because of the separate and diverse behaviors, diagnosis can be difficult. Suffers more commonly seek help during depressive episodes, which can easily lead to a misdiagnosis of depression or anxiety. Manic episodes that include hallucinations or psychotic symptoms may be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia, personality, or delusional disorders. If you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from bipolar disorder or any other mental health disability, don’t hesitate to call a mental health professional to get tested. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can live better.